Shahzad’s killing raises questions about security
By Syed Irfan Raza
MANDI BAHAUDDIN: The mysterious kidnapping and killing of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad on Sunday has raised many questions about security measures taken by police and other agencies as he was reportedly picked up in broad daylight from a posh residential sector of Islamabad, presumed to be the country`s safest city, and taken to Mandi Bahauddin, some 150kms south-east of there.
A drive by this reporter on Wednesday from Islamabad through the presumed route taken by the journalist`s killers left a poor impression of police vigilance, on the part of both the national and the Punjab outfits.
Background interviews and the trip to Mandi Bahauddin revealed that the kidnappers and killers of Shahzad passed through seven checkpoints and three toll collection points, but were flagged down at neither.
It is hard to believe media reports that the killers had thrown a journalist`s body into the Upper Jhelum Canal at Sarai Alamgir at a point from where his car was found and that his body floated 25kms to Wapda`s headworks at Rasul,, near Mandi Bahauddin town.
Mr Shahzad was bureau chief for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times, an online publication and the Italian news agency Andkronos (AKI). He was known for his investigative reporting on militancy and Al Qaeda.
It appeared the killers did not want to hide their crime as they could have easily hidden the body and car anywhere, or even could have tried to show his death as a result of a car accident.
“The killers could have set Mr Shahzad`s (white Toyota Corolla) car on fire or dropped it into any ravine on the way from Islamabad to Sara-i-Alamgir,” Sara-i-Alamgir police in charge Mohammad Aslam said. “But since they wanted to make Mr Shahzad`s death an example for other journalists, they parked his car by the wayside at Sarai-i-Alamgir and threw his body into a wide Upper Jhelum Canal so that someone could see the body and inform police and his family.”
Mr Shahzad had left his F-8/3 home on Sunday at 4.40pm by his car to proceed to Duniya TV channel`s office in Sector F-6 to take part in a talk show, but was apparently picked up on the way – or maybe close to his own home. But sources in Islamabad police said his whereabouts were last traced through his mobile phone frequency in F-6 sector.
Police think that after leaving his house, the journalist probably opted to proceed to F-6 via Khayaban-i-Iqbal, commonly known as Margalla Road, but first he drove his car on Church Road in F-8 which leads to Faisal Avenue. On Church Road and Faisal Avenue he would have crossed two police checkpoints and three on Margalla Road before reaching F-6 Sector.
Police sources guess the most likely route the killers could have selected to leave Islamabad after kidnapping the journalist could have been the 7th Avenue and after passing through Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters, they proceeded southeast to Islamabad Highway via Kashmir Highway and Park Road on way to the Grand Trunk Road. They must have found no police checkpoint for more than 40kms as the one at Airport Chowk, on Islamabad Highway, operates only at night.
During the rest of the journey on the Grand Trunk Road from Rewat, outside Islamabad, to Sara-i-Alamgir, the killers would have crossed three toll plazas of the National Highway Authority – at Mandra, Tarrakai and Jhelum Ã¢â‚¬“ but they did not appear to have attracted any suspicion on the part of Highway police.
After reaching Sarai-i-Alamgir, which is more than 120kms, or two hours` drive, from Islamabad, the abductors seemed to have chosen a narrow road that branches from the GT Road in front of a police station, passing through two villages to reach Mandi Bahauddin, avoiding the main road to escape the public eye.
Police found Saleem Shahzad`s car at a point where the narrow road and the Sara-i-Alamgir-Mandi Bahauddin road meet. “We found the car by the wayside near Jhelum canal facing Mandi Bahauddin,” said Sara-i-Alamgir police station in charge Muhammad Jamil.
He said the car was locked and police had to break a door glass to open it. “The car (bearing a yellow registration number plate of Sindh) was clean from the inside and there was no sign the victim was tortured inside the car,” the SHO said.
It could not be ascertained where Mr Shahzad was tortu- red to death and that whether he was taken to Sara-i-Alamgir alive or dead.
Sara-i-Alamgir and Mandi Bahauddin police gave contradictory statements about the place where Mr Shahzad`s body was thrown into the Upper Jhelum Canal, obviously to shift responsibility to the other side for investigating the matter.
“We found Mr Shahzad`s car on Sunday and his body was recovered the next evening. Therefore, we cannot believe that the body was thrown into the canal from the spot where the car was parked,” said SHO Jamil of Sara-i-Alamgir.
He said the body might have been thrown into the canal somewhere close to Head Rasul.
On the other hand, the in charge of Mandi Bahauddin police post at Head Rasul, Muhammad Aslam, claimed the body had floated down from Sara-i-Alamgir. “The flow of water is so high that it can keep even big animals like buffaloes afloat. I believe that the body of Mr Shahzad came from the point where his car was found,” Mr Aslam added..
Wadpa employees at Head Rasul power house said the body seemed to be fresh when it was found there on Monday afternoon, suggesting that it had not been in the water for long.
“We remove bushes and other waste on the headworks many times a day through a hydraulic bucket to unblock spilling water for the turbine and the body was found during one such process,” said Ghulam Akhtar, a Wapda employee working in an area out of bounds for the public.
The in charge of the police post in the area said the body was buried as there was no claimant and there was no mortuary in the entire Mandi Bahauddin district. “We did our best. We took photographs of the journalist and sent them to the media so that his family members could claim it,” he said.